By David Feddes
How would you like to live to be 150 years old? How about living to 1,200 or even 2,000? Well, you and I will probably die before it becomes possible for humans to get that old. But some scientists believe that in the future, human life spans will get longer and longer, and some researchers envision a future when a person’s life could go on for centuries or even millennia.
One thing is certain: we humans are already living longer than people used to live. In the past thousand years, life expectancy for the average person increased by fifty years. In the past century alone, average life expectancy in the United States increased by about thirty years. Some experts predict that within the next fifty years, average life expectancy will be close to 100.
Does that sound unrealistic? Well, if you had told someone back in 1900 (when average life expectancy was 47) that only a century later, people would be living an average of thirty years longer, few would have believed you. In 1928, a demographer predicted that average life expectancy in the United States would never exceed 65 years. Today’s actual average is 77.
A big part of the increased average comes from dramatic decreases of infant mortality and childhood epidemics. Improved social and economic conditions, better sanitation and nutrition, vaccines, antibiotics, and other medical advances have made a big difference. Also, old people get better care and live longer. Life expectancy will probably keep increasing little by little as we discover cures for more diseases and learn more about healthy lifestyles.
The person who lived longest in our time, Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, died in 1997 at the age of 122. She ate chocolate every day and smoked cigarettes until she decided to quit at age 117, so don’t take her as a role model of how to add years to your life. Madame Calment was still riding her bike at age 100, but she spent her last years in a nursing home, and she was virtually blind and deaf before she died. That’s the oldest documented lifespan in the modern era—122 years.
Any huge jump in life expectancy would depend on finding out how to deal with the aging process itself. The first longevity revolution has brought many victories over hunger and disease, extending the average life by several decades. The next longevity revolution aims to delay the onset of old age. Jay Olshansky of the University of Chicago authored a book titled The Quest for Immortality. He says, “Scientists are on the verge of discovering major secrets of aging.” The aim is not to help frail, elderly people to survive a few years longer but to preserve youthfulness as long as possible. Olshansky says, “We don’t want to make ourselves older longer, we want to make ourselves younger longer.”
How much longer? That’s anybody’s guess. Olshansky doesn’t think anyone will be able to reach 150 in good health. Gregory Stock of UCLA Medical School says, “We’ll double human life spans.” Others think the limit may go much higher—or that there may be no limit at all. California biologist Michael Rose declares, “Aging is in no sense any basic feature of cell biochemistry… It is something you can change and control.” When asked, “Is there any limit to the human life span?” he replies, “No. Not at all… the limit of the human lifespan is the limit of human technology.” Rose says that if we could gain for the elderly the health of those between ages ten and fifteen, most would have a life expectancy of 1,200 years, and some would live 2,000 years. Even that may not be the limit. Rose says of his research, “I am now working on immortality.”
The Oldest Humans
Immortality isn’t in the scientists’ grasp just yet, but before we completely dismiss the possibility of people living to 150 or even living close to 1,000 years, we should note that it’s already happened before.
If we go back in history, we find some people who lived very long indeed. Moses, the great leader of Israel, lived to be 120. His body stayed strong and his eyesight remained sharp till the day he died. Moses didn’t age much; he simply died when his time came. If we go further back in history, we find that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, ancestors of the Israelites, all lived longer than anyone lives today. Abraham made it to 175, Isaac lived to be 180, and Jacob was 147 years old when he died.
Even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had short lives compared to some who lived before them. According to the Bible, the first man, Adam, lived to be 930, and it was common in those earliest times of humanity to live over 900 years. Methuselah, the oldest man who ever lived, died at age 969.
Does that sound impossible? When the Bible tells of past humans who lived such a long time, some people think it’s just a myth. But when a scientist predicts that future humans may someday top 1,000 years of age, many of these same people suddenly believe it could happen. If God says something in the Bible, it’s hard to believe, but if a scientist says it in a journal, it’s gospel. Humans freshly made by God couldn’t top 900, but there’s no limit to humans remade by science. Is it smart to take ourselves more seriously than we take God?
The fact is that we don’t know all there is to know about aging. We don’t know how healthy and hardy those early humans may have been or how their bodies and their rate of aging may have differed from ours. God designed the original human bodies to live forever. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, their bodies became subject to aging, disease, and death, but their bodies were still healthier and more durable than human bodies today. Also, these people with such long lives were on earth before the Flood, the catastrophe that changed everything. We don’t know how the world before the Flood may have differed from the world as we find it today. We don’t know how the aftereffects of this judgment from God altered human bodies and the aging process. We do know what the Bible tells us: most pre-flood patriarchs lived over 900 years, and after the flood, lifespans became shorter and shorter. Rather than doubt the Bible and challenge how Adam and Methuselah could live such a long time, we might better ask why we live such a short time.
The Methuselah Pill
At any rate, if scientists have their way, human life expectancy won’t remain so short. It will again become longer, first matching the 120 vigorous years of Moses and perhaps eventually matching Methuselah and beyond. Science journalist Ronald Bailey gave an overview of current scientific research in an article for Reason magazine titled, “Forever Young.”
The effort to live longer goes beyond eating vitamins, restricting calories, or exercising. Some use hormone therapy to maintain muscle and bone mass and keep people younger longer. However, some hormone treatments appear to increase the risk of serious diseases and may actually shorten life.
Other researchers pin their hopes on regenerative medicine, using cloning and stem cells. As Ronald Bailey describes it, “If you need a new heart or liver, it might be possible to grow a new perfect transplant using your own cells.” In the cloning process, one of your cells would fertilize an egg from which the nucleus had been removed. Rather than allow that new, cloned human life to grow into a new version of yourself, it would be destroyed after it reached a certain stage. “Stem cells would be harvested,” says Bailey, “and transformed into the desired tissues for transplant.” Because the tissue came from your own clone, your body would not reject the transplant. Basically, this amounts to making your life last longer by trading in old organs for new ones. But having upgraded organs won’t do much good if the brain is deteriorating. The solution? Maybe new neurons can be injected and take over from the older cells.
Other approaches aim directly at putting an end to the very process of aging. Many scientists blame aging on free radicals. With every bite of food we eat, the body releases more free radicals, unstable molecules that damage cells and weaken the system over time. Colorado researcher Thomas Johnson altered a gene in roundworms to make a “super antioxidant gene.” This gene produces a chemical that locates and destroys free radicals, doubling the worms’ lifespan. The hope is that making a similar change in a human gene could double the human lifespan.
Besides developing a “super antioxidant gene,” researchers hope to identify and enhance longevity genes. They theorize that different species each have genes which set a basic biological clock which limits the length of life. In fact, research finds that in some species, this is controlled by just a few genes. If those same genes are identified on the human genome, there may be ways to reset the biological clock. A Harvard researcher hopes to identify the longevity gene and then produce what he would label “a Methuselah pill” that mimics the activity of the proteins made by the longevity gene. If they ever succeed, can you imagine the market demand for Methuselah pills?
Another area of research to prolong human life is nanotechnology. A research scientist says, “Nanotechnology will let us build fleets of computer-controlled molecular tools much smaller than a human cell and with the accuracy and precision of drug molecules.” These micro-machines could keep blood vessels clear, kill cancer cells, and perhaps remove the effects of aging. This would enable people to live much longer.
Some of this may sound pretty far-fetched. None of these approaches has yet achieved its goal. As one authority on aging research says, “There is no intervention that has been proven to slow, stop, or reverse aging. Period.” But will that still be the case in the future? Some of our best minds, backed by government grants and vast investments from giant corporations, are aiming to figure out the causes of aging and defeat the aging process. The payoff would be enormous. If a person or corporation could market something to help humans stay younger and live longer, they would make unimaginable amounts of money. There’s doubt whether anti-aging research will succeed, but no doubt that if they did succeed, demand would be huge.
Some of these endeavors raise ethical problems, but let’s not get into those here. Instead let’s focus on the simple fact that we humans want life to be longer and better. We want more. We’re not satisfied with our quality of life or its quantity. We’re like the old joke about a customer who complained about a restaurant: “The food was lousy, and the portion was too small.” It might seem logical that if you don’t like the restaurant’s food, you won’t want a larger portion. But many of us regard life the way that customer regarded his meal. We’re not really happy with our life, yet we want more of it. We don’t want to die. We would be delighted if scientists could find a way to make us live longer. We want to be immortal, forever young.
In each of us there is a craving for life to be more than it is, for something to fill up what’s missing in our lives and for something to make us live forever. Jesus addresses that craving for life when he says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 8:51). Jesus gives fullness of life in quality and quantity. In quality Jesus gives a kind of life that is really worth living. In quantity Jesus gives a kind of life that never stops. If you’re looking for more, Jesus has it. Jesus has life unlimited, and it can be yours.
Jesus often speaks of life unlimited as “eternal life.” It is eternal or unlimited in two senses. First, this life is eternal, unlimited, because it comes from the divine, eternal being of God and you can experience something of that unlimited Jesus-life right now. Second, this life is eternal, unlimited, in the sense that it never comes to an end. It goes far beyond anything scientists can come up with. It lasts forever.
God gave some hints of eternal life already in Old Testament times. He originally designed people with bodies that could live forever, and even after humanity fell into sin and became vulnerable to death, some lived over 900 years. What’s more, there were some who never died at all. One man in that era of extremely long life, named Enoch, lived on earth 365 years. Enoch’s father, Jared, was the second oldest man ever, living 962 years. Enoch’s son, Methuselah, was the oldest man in history, living 969 years. Enoch made it to 365, but then something happened: he vanished from earth without dying at all. The Bible says, “Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (5:21-24).
The Bible mentions one other man who bypassed death and went directly to heaven: the prophet Elijah. Scripture says of Elijah that “a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared … and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:11-12).
Enoch and Elijah are the only people from the past who never died, but in the future there will be a large group of people who never die. The Bible says that when Jesus returns to earth, “the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). In other words, all who belong to Jesus and are alive at his return will not die at all. They will follow the path of Enoch and Elijah. Their bodies will be transformed and transported to meet the Lord and be at home with him forever. If Jesus returns in our lifetime, many people now living will never die.
Even if Jesus doesn’t return that soon, even if we get old and die before the Lord comes back, it’s encouraging to know what happened to Enoch and Elijah and what will happen to Jesus’ followers who are alive at his coming. The fact that not everyone dies means that the pattern of death can be broken. If a few people in the past and many more in the future will not die at all, then death is not unbeatable.
Our strongest hope, though, comes not from knowing about the people who never died, such as Enoch and Elijah, but from knowing someone who did die but then arose to life again—the Lord Jesus Christ. Even if it turns out that we must die, all who belong to the living Lord Jesus can take heart that something more lies beyond death. The God who provides a detour around death for some can take others through the valley of the shadow of death and bring them out safe, sound and resurrected.
One of my favorite Bible verses is 2 Timothy 1:10, which says, “Our Savior, Christ Jesus, has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Life and immortality! Life right now connected to God and his joy, and immortality that defeats disease, deterioration, and death.
Life Worth Living
Jesus is the only one who can make life worth living right now. The Bible says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Are you alive, really alive? Or are you just breathing and moving around? If you’re not connected with God, you may have a pulse, but you’re not alive. You chase one pleasure after another, but are you really satisfied and happy? Are you truly alive? The Bible says that those who live only for pleasure are dead even while they live (1 Timothy 5:6). The main point of human existence is to know God and enjoy him. Existence without Christ is pointless and lifeless.
What if scientists really could find a way to help you stay young longer and go on living for centuries? I know I’d be pleased if more diseases could be cured and more pain could be relieved, and I would welcome methods of lengthening life as long as those methods were ethical. But making life longer isn’t good enough unless life is also made better—better not just in the sense of more vigorous and youthful, but better in the sense of more loving, more worthwhile, more in touch with God.
Think back to the time when people actually lived more than 900 years. Many were super-healthy and super-strong, what the Bible calls “heroes of old.” But almost all of these “heroes” were horrible heroes. With their super-strength, they became super sinners. With their super health and ultra-long life, they got deeper into sin than is possible in a short lifetime. The Bible says, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6). That’s when God sent the great Flood that wiped out everybody except Noah and his family. After that, God promised never again to send such a sweeping judgment—and at the same time God began to shorten people’s lifespans, limiting their evil. God decided never again to wipe out almost everybody at once, but he also decided to no longer let individuals live almost a millennium. People who live a short time can get pretty bad, but people who live a really long time can get really bad.
We don’t just need years added to our life; we need life added to our years. Apart from Jesus, we are dead even while we live. But Jesus can take us out of that deadness and make us truly alive. “I tell you the truth,” says Jesus, “whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:44). Jesus takes you from the deadness of self-centered existence to the life of thriving in God. Scripture says, “When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ” (Colossians 2:13). “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
Scientists may study body parts and cells and DNA, but they will never find the deepest cause of deterioration and death, and they will never find the cure that truly gives life. The cause of death is sin against God, and the only cure for death is the Spirit of God. Jesus says, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). The moment you believe in Jesus, you leave the realm of death, and the Holy Spirit gives you life. You come alive to God, and once the Christ-life is lit within you, it can never be snuffed out. It is life unlimited, both in quality and quantity.
Jesus brings life and immortality to light through the gospel. The gospel is the good news that life can be different when we live each day under the kingship of God, forgiven of our sins for Jesus’ sake and brought into living fellowship with God. The gospel is also the good news that Jesus defeats death. He not only makes life worth living, he makes it last forever. He not only makes the spirit alive, but he raises the body. Jesus own body triumphed over death. After Jesus was tortured and killed, he rose from the dead in an immortal, glorious body. Jesus destroyed death and revealed immortality.
No scientist will ever be able to do anything like this, but some people have their hopes up. Some people have their bodies frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen, in the hope that cryonic freezing will keep their bodies intact until a time when science has discovered a way to reverse aging and restore frozen bodies to life and health.
I don’t need anyone to freeze my body to know that my body will someday live again. I’m not counting on science. I’m counting on the Lord. Jesus “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).
Meanwhile, if we have life in Jesus right now, we don’t need to fear death. “I tell you the truth,” says Jesus, “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). When you trust Jesus’ word of promise and follow his word of guidance, when you are alive in his Holy Spirit, you won’t even see death. When your time on this earth ends, your spirit will pass instantly into life in heaven with the Lord, and your body will be raised, transformed, and reunited with your spirit when Jesus comes again and brings heaven to earth. “For my Father’s will,” says Jesus, “is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).
There’s something healthy about our longing to be forever young, and there’s something sick about thinking we can make it happen through our own human efforts. It’s healthy to want immortality because God himself wants us to have immortality, but it’s sick to think we can have it without God. Resurrection is his gift, not our achievement.
Most religions have some ideas about immortality, but only Jesus has actually made it happen. What other religious leader came back to life and showed himself to more than 500 people, as Jesus did. None. Jesus is the one who brought life and immortality to light.
Life and immortality are no secret. You don’t have to wait for a scientific discovery. You don’t have to wait for a new religious revelation or the appearance of a future Messiah. Resurrection has already become reality in the person of Jesus, and he promises life unlimited to all who trust him.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.